dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Empathy, Not Information Will Solve Downtown Safety Issue

February 10th, 2017 · No Comments

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Eugene has tackled the problem of downtown public safety before. The troubles in 1997 were the same as today: needles, urine, cursing on one end; frustration, fear, befuddlement on the other.

Ward 1 was represented 20 years ago by Bobby Lee. He went straight from being student government president at the University of Oregon to winning a seat on the Eugene City Council. He was 27 years old when this issue first came before him as an elected official.

Not knowing any better, Lee started hanging out downtown to listen to the disaffected youth. He could almost blend in — haunting the concrete fountain structure, wandering our desolate walking mall. He forged friendships and learned how they coped.

After several months, he took the next step. He gathered some camping gear and spent a couple of nights sleeping downtown. He thought this would be the best way for him to genuinely understand the problem that he and his fellow councilors were trying to solve.

Lee brought a new kind of awareness into the council chambers in 1997. His colleagues listened. Eugene drafted its car camping ordinance, which continues to give many homeless people legal refuge from winter rains.

Lee works today as the Governor’s Regional Solutions Coordinator for the Portland Metro area. I called him this week to ask about his 1997 experience. What he told me, which does not necessarily reflect the governor’s views or her administration’s, surprised us both.

We discussed Eugene’s downtown dilemma first through the lens he uses in his day job. “People are often surprised how complex social problems are,” he told me, “but they shouldn’t be. Every problem we face is multi-dimensional. If you can’t see the problem from multiple angles, the solutions you develop won’t really work in the real world.”

I asked him if he remembers the nights he slept on the street.

“As clear as those hot August nights! There was some sort of meteor event in the sky. I remember that. But I also remember seeing a teenager sleeping with his cheek on the pavement — nothing in between him and the street. Looking back now, it feels like it was yesterday.

“That experience fundamentally changed me. I’m a different person, as a result. I used to complain about little things. I don’t do that now, because I’ve seen how small those complaints really are. I appreciate my life a lot better. I became a better person.

“It suddenly became clear to me why I was doing what I was doing. When you’re an elected official, you’re usually afraid of something — you might say the wrong thing, you might lose somebody’s support, you might not win the next election. After those nights, I wasn’t afraid any more.

“I saw that night that talk was really just that. All of a sudden, that seemed too small. I could see there was much more that I could be doing.

“It’s weird, but this is the first time I’ve ever really talked to anyone about it. Nobody has ever asked before, but I’m absolutely certain it made me who I am today.

“I finally found my mission. I learned under those stars what it meant to be a public servant, as opposed to an elected official. I saw with great clarity how I could use my position to make a real difference. Everyone has their own unique calling that they need to follow. I found mine that night, 20 years ago.”

Lee takes a multi-dimensional approach to the problems he’s called on to help solve in Portland. He’s been sharpening these skills for decades, but the point of it all was revealed to him on the street, in the dark. How it happened still surprises him.

Emily Semple now represents Ward 1. She was arrested for protesting for the homeless in 2012. Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis worked at ShelterCare, so she knows about lifting up the underclass. New voices and perspectives will be welcome, but Lee’s lesson is vital.

Information is no substitute for empathy. Some messages received and lessons learned arrive only in the dead of night.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Nothing Revolutionary About Mob Mentality

February 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

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Kim Fischer had a bone to pick with historians. As a high school social studies teacher, he claimed our war for independence should not be referred to as a revolution. He used his invented umbrage to teach us about Enlightenment ideas that formed the basis of our Declaration of Independence and then our United States Constitution.

We loved hearing him accuse Thomas Jefferson of plagiarism, lifting John Locke’s century-old phrase that government should protect its citizens’ “life, liberty and property.” We silently cheered when he insisted that democracy came from the Greeks, and that a representative republic was also not original with us.

Those high school civics lessons have echoed through my head for over four decades. It’s taken this long to believe I could hold my own on the other side of his argument. The founding of this country was indeed revolutionary, and it may be easily unraveled by our own righteousness.

Jefferson swapped Locke’s idea that government should protect our property with our pursuit of happiness. The argument can be made — I’ve made it — that happiness lacks any self-limiting markers. If King George III had too much property, he would and did eventually lose some of it — but nothing can be done about anyone having too much happiness. American excesses have inevitably accrued since Jefferson edited Locke.

I have no such umbrage — invented or not — to take with James Madison. He worried that the United States Constitution was a marvelous implementation of the ideals woven into the Declaration of Independence, but that those “inalienable rights” should have been articulated again and included in that founding document.

Washington led the fight for a new country. Jefferson crafted a new form of government. But Madison, the youngest of the three, envisioned a new kind of society. His Bill of Rights has been our foundation for what we expect and how we treat one another.

Just a divided government has checks and balances, so too do our rights compete and constrain themselves. The First Amendment’s freedoms must not supplant the fourth or the sixth. Fischer always told his students, “There’s no mystery to history — everything’s connected.”

Events and ideas are connected, and so are people.

One of our neighbors again did something that most of us would not condone. A few months ago, it was blackface at a Halloween party. Now it’s two school administrators talking trash about former students.

I’m not here to defend those choices or those actions, but I will defend those people, because they are no different than me and no different than us. As one of the culprits admitted in an apology to the community, he’s “a human being, flawed and not infallible.”

Administrative rules may have shown these two administrators the door if they hadn’t found it on their own when they quit last week. The woman with blackface will likewise face internal discipline by her employer — following due process. Maybe all of them have had the opportunity to face their accusers in private. We don’t know who took the photographs or why. Those matters are out of our hands.

Here’s what’s not out of our hands: how we respond.

Our founding fathers agreed that the Constitution was not complete if it only articulated the rule of law. The aspirational language about how we should expect to be treated — by the government and by one another — was just as important.

John Locke’s 1679 essay was entitled, “Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government.” He published it anonymously, fearing reprisal from government authorities. Madison penned our Bill of Rights and published in American newspapers his arguments with Alexander Hamilton about how they should be understood.

The Federalist Papers gave Americans a clear picture of their leaders pushing past simple democracy to a civil society, where the rights of every individual is guaranteed. “Majority rules” had to be understood as necessary but not sufficient — a good starting point, but only that.

Accepting or condoning any mob mentality — even for a righteous cause — is to miss the truly revolutionary convictions of our founders. Madison and Jefferson and Washington would not be pleased, to say nothing of Fischer.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Alarmed by Encroaching Precision

January 26th, 2017 · No Comments

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Let’s get alarmed about something that seems not the least bit political — except, of course, eventually it is. Something we’ve always valued is slowly overturning many things we’ve always valued more.

Call it encroaching precision.

Our first problem is that precision cannot always be equated with accuracy, just as facts do not always reveal what’s true. There’s an argument to be made for “alternative facts” — assuming they are also correct and relevant — but I promised to steer us clear of politics.

Steering will come up again, so watch for it.

If I tell you that three out of five newspaper readers want the weather map on Page One, you might believe me. But if I asserted that it’s really 59.37 percent of readers, now you assume I’ve studied the issue deeply, even if I haven’t. The precision in the assertion is easily mistaken for accuracy — and so, believability.

Very few things that are actually true are knowable to two decimal points, at least to most humans. And that’s the second problem we face with increasing precision.

Sharing has become too easy. Forget Facebook and fake news — too political. In the analog world, artists knew how to get paid for their work. If you wanted to hear or see them, you had to go where they were and pay to be there.

Fans bought recordings to either relive the moment when they attended the concert or to imagine what being there must have been like. Excepting The Grateful Dead and a few other outliers, recordings were controlled by the artists or their agents.

Nobody worried too much about bootleg cassette recordings, because they weren’t very good copies. And copies of copies were dreadful. The technology was self-limiting. But digital copies have no such limitations. Exact digital copies can spread exponentially faster than analog approximations. And the original source may have been nothing more than an iPhone in the audience.

As video distribution expands, other performers are likewise worried about protecting their livelihoods. Phones can be checked at the door, but wearable and increasingly miniaturized devices will overtake those limits. Once holographic virtual reality takes hold, you and I may have difficulty discerning what’s real and what’s a copy.

Virtual reality programmers are already learning that they shouldn’t put the image of a chair into an imaginary room, because VR viewers cannot resist the urge to sit down. When they tumble backwards onto the floor, their VR helmet can’t help them.

Computers have their limits, but the most frightening problem is when they don’t. We’re well informed about the progress being made toward driverless cars and their promise to greatly reduce collisions that regularly occur on our roadways.

We’re hearing much less about how these automated devices will choose between multiple unavoidable collisions. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has built what they call a Moral Machine to demonstrate the life-or-death algorithms being added to the so-called smart car technology.

For instance, if debris falls from a bridge and blocks the car’s lane, should it swerve left and collide with a school bus or swerve right and hit a crowd of pedestrians? Unlike humans, these machines can tabulate the potential for loss of life for each option in a millisecond, and respond accordingly.

That sounds like a comfort, until you consider there may be a third option. Optimizing human lives sounds like a wonderful goal for MIT and car-computer programmers, but what if the optimized outcome is for the car to do nothing, thus hitting the debris and killing the vehicle’s inhabitants?

That sounds right from a cost-benefit analysis, but then a different question follows. Who will accept a ride in that driverless car? If people refuse to use driverless cars, what good can the technology do?

It’s getting late to be asking such questions, but this is the ride we’re on. Will we allow algorithms to be written that could determine our individual fates? If refusing those algorithms feels inhumane, then we’re faced with a terribly precise question. What exactly are we to make of ourselves, analogically speaking?

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs.

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Climate Reparations May Bypass the President

January 20th, 2017 · No Comments

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Register-Guard readers woke to shocking news on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. Splashed across the “He’s hired” headline was the shocking result of the presidential election. But two days later, the front page featured another underdog prevailing in a different sort of political battle: “Climate suit cleared for trial.”

The latter story, and its accompanying photo of the jubilant plaintiffs, may end up having the larger impact. The Washington Post referred to it as potentially “the biggest trial of the century.” Many believe it holds the best hope of addressing climate change before the planet become inhabitable for humans.

Just hours after Election Day, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken refused to dismiss the lawsuit being brought against the federal government by 21 youth plaintiffs, all of whom are between the ages of 9 and 20, coordinated by a Eugene non-profit organization, Our Children’s Trust.

This is a good week to reflect on why the federal government is trying to stop this and other similar trials. We’re inaugurating a new president today who believes climate change is a hoax. His nominee to oversee the nation’s energy policy suggested the department he will run should be abolished. Scientists have just confirmed that last year was the warmest on record, for the third year in a row.

But never mind those details. Think instead about the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Our Children’s Trust draws directly on King’s legacy — learning from both his successes and his failures. (Hint: that front page photo was no less important than the headline.)

Our Children’s Trust’s legal reasoning may be novel, but it draws from ancient Common Law thinking that shaped the western world. For example, if you and I own a cabin together and I trash the cabin during my visit, I’m responsible for all the repairs, even though I own only half the cabin. The legal framework is really that simple.

These young people are claiming that their right to a full life of breathing clean air and drinking clean water is being violated by the current generation and its regulatory practices. Aiken’s ruling couldn’t help but agree: “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

I’s really so simple that a child could understand it. “Clean air and water belongs to us as much as it belongs to you, but you’re using it up. We shouldn’t have to pay for your negligence.”

The legal case is compelling, but the optics are absolutely devastating. Picture prepubescent children, dressed for a courtroom, listening while a government official claims that, metaphorically speaking, the dog ate his homework. You can see why the defendants desperately want to avoid the spectacle of a trial.

King understood the power of optics. He brought — no pun intended — arresting images into people’s living rooms. First it was dogs and water hoses. Then an elderly woman preferring not to give up her seat. Then boycotts and publicized jailings. When King planned his March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, Walter Cronkite asked CBS to double his nightly news program to 30 minutes, so it could be properly covered.

Less remembered are King’s final years, when his activism attacked income inequality, the neglect of the poor, and our escalating military involvement in Vietnam. These causes were no less noble than the civil rights movement, but King couldn’t coordinate compelling optics.

So it is with climate change. Images of polar bears on ice floes or charts showing temperatures rising may be surprising, even alarming — but not heart-rending. Seeing young girls being spit upon as they enter a newly desegregated school — that can make the blood boil. Those images mobilized Americans and catalyzed real change.

Likewise, Our Children’s Trust invites cameras to survey the faces of young people, asking for nothing more than air they can breathe and water they can drink. When the future speaks for itself, we can’t bear not to listen.

At the end of the day, it may not matter who inhabits the White House.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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America Has a 72-Year Itch for Stongmen

January 19th, 2017 · No Comments

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The myths we believe most fiercely are the ones we tell about ourselves. As our nation contemplates a new president, we fear that President Trump may fulfill his campaign swagger and rule the country as a prototypical “strong man.”

We claim that we’ve never seen such a leader before, but that’s only literally true. We haven’t seen it, but our grandparents did, and so did their grandparents. In fact, we’ve had three “strong man” leaders in our nation’s history, and that’s counting only the ones who succeeded. We’re overdue for a fourth.

They have been spread evenly through our nation’s history, roughly every 72 years. Once those who saw our last strong man have died, we swoon into a new one’s collapsing arms.

Our country might never have formed without a strong central leader to get things started. George Washington has always been the father of the country, singular in prestige and power. He didn’t devise the country’s separation of powers, but he brokered its acceptance. Few believed they would limit him.

England’s King George III saw Washington as a new king who would never walk away from the central power he amassed, telling a confidante that if he did, “He would be the greatest man who ever lived.” When he refused to accept a third term, he surprised everyone.

Seventy-two years after Washington became president, Abraham Lincoln entered the Oval Office. He had won only 40 percent of the popular vote, and he was not a trusted name among the power elite. He couldn’t claim any sort of mandate, but he governed as if he’d been given one.

The young nation went to war with itself, and mercilessly so. President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, imprisoning citizens without trial for the first time since winning independence. The Civil War might have ended sooner and with less bloodshed, but Lincoln and his generals required nothing less than unconditional surrender.

Lincoln issued the strongest proclamation since Washington and 55 others signed the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all southern slaves at once. There was no promise of a transition period, no reparations, no accommodations of any sort. Freedom for 3.1 million slaves in the rebel states was not negotiated — it was proclaimed.

Freedom for northern slaves did not come by presidential fiat, but by the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It hadn’t yet passed when Lincoln was assassinated by a former confederate spy, John Wilkes Booth, in 1865.

Imprisoning citizens without trial, challenging judicial supremacy, Constitutional limits on executive power — America didn’t see these conditions again until after a new strong man won the presidency in 1933.

Seventy-two years after Lincoln’s first inauguration, the nation was again in turmoil, but this time the battles being fought were economic. The Great Depression was ravaging the worker class. The elderly and the infirm were dying on the streets. Franklin Delano Roosevelt immediately set the nation on a new course.

His first 100 days in office produced a dizzying array of new programs that put people to work on construction projects, created the Social Security retirement program, strengthened unions and other worker protections. When the United States Supreme Court threatened to undo some of his initiatives, he attempted to expand its size with more sympathetic jurists.

Roosevelt’s attempt to “pack the court” failed, but other populist initiatives succeeded. When popular fears about Japan’s aggressions rose, Roosevelt ordered over 100,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps “for their own protection” until the conclusion of World War II in 1946.

Just as Lincoln never saw all American slaves freed, Roosevelt died before the internment camps could be closed. Roosevelt broke with presidential tradition when he refused to refuse a third term — and then a fourth — as president. The Constitutional limit of two elected presidential terms passed six years after his death.

Seventy-two years after FDR took office would take us to 2005, when President George W. Bush was imprisoning Americans without trial overseas, surveilling Americans at home, and torturing enemy combatants — all with minimal judicial oversight. Or you can count 72 years from FDR’s death — that brings you to 2017.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Egan Shows What Eugene is Made Of

January 13th, 2017 · No Comments

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I used to tell people if they had only one hour in Eugene, they should attend the Eugene Celebration parade. In 60 minutes, anyone could see how this city moves through the issues that animate its people.

Time marches on, even if the Eugene Celebration parade no longer does. Some of us are moving a little more slowly now, especially when a walk to the mailbox begins to look like a failed audition for the Ice Capades. Thanks in part to our early spate of brutal winter nights, I have a new introductory Eugene hour to recommend.

If you want to know what this city is made of, volunteer at any of the nine Thomas Egan Warming Centers. In one hour, you’ll come to know the place and its people. Unlike the parade, the Egan Warming Centers are not set up for passive observers. You’ll have to apply to volunteer at www.eganwarmingcenter.com, attend a short training session, and sign up for a shift. Each step is necessary and worth the trouble.

The centers are spread around the city, mostly in churches, including two in Springfield. If you sign up for the site closest to your home, chances are you’ll see some of your neighbors working in the kitchen, folding blankets, tending to sore feet, or chatting with guests. Think of the guests as your neighbors without addresses.

There is so much to love about Egan, beginning with the name. Maj. Thomas Egan died on the street here eight years ago. His tragedy mobilized a community response. Our brains are not wired to focus on trends or statistics. Particulars focus our attention and strengthen our resolve. Tom Egan is the name we’ve given that commitment. We have former mayors who haven’t been honored as deeply.

Egan Warming Centers activate when overnight temperatures are expected to fall below 30 degrees. We’ve activated already this season as many nights as some entire winters. Each night of activation requires a small army of volunteers. The smallest site has space for 40 guests, requiring nearly as many volunteers.

The program could have been designed to use fewer volunteers, but the surplus is strategic. There’s time to chat during most three-hour shifts, and almost no concern that anyone will finish their turn feeling overwhelmed or dispirited. Even if only for a few hours, you can feel the tide of homeless suffering receding.

Many sites have exactly zero paid staff on the premises. Volunteer leaders have emerged. The egalitarian spirit shapes the mood of the room. Some guests come in from the cold feeling angry at the world and the systems that run it. It helps when nobody in the room has been forced to be there. “The Man” is nowhere to be found.

One young man told me I must be brave, if I was heading out in the morning with only my two layers and a scarf. I told him I had only a few blocks to walk. We laughed for a moment that guests and volunteers look alike, but that’s exactly as it should be. His buddy shook his head, then nodded, “We’re all God’s children.” I couldn’t have said it better.

The need is always great but the work is often easy. I’ve asked a dozen volunteers how they got involved. Most were invited or enticed by a friend. Someone they knew was already involved or interested, and so they followed.

There’s nothing surprising about that. We’re social creatures. Here is where we can build on the success we’re already enjoying. By simply “buddying up” we can double the effectiveness of the Egan Warming Center’s outreach.

If you’re already a volunteer, think about who you can invite to give it a try. If you’ve been thinking about doing the training, mention it to somebody you don’t see often enough and ask them to join you. Next time you’ve served a shift and enjoyed getting to know another volunteer, conspire to work together again.

The work we do takes us to who we become. As people and as a city, nobody travels in this parade alone. We’re all God’s children.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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AAB – Availing Abundance

January 9th, 2017 · No Comments

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My parents bought gasoline differently. A few years ago, I resolved to favor my father’s way. I learned a lot as I operated on my modus operandi. This year, I’m planning to push myself further in his direction.

Dad had his routine. Late every Saturday afternoon, he would pull into the same station, where they offered a free newspaper with every fill-up. He knew if he got there mid-afternoon, they’d have the early edition of the Sunday paper — a bigger paper, but the same deal. From my shotgun seat, I’d hear him banter about politics with the proprietor.

Then he would head to the liquor store. My memory suggests he bought the same things every week: Slim Jims, Beer Nuts, and a 12-cent comic book for me. He probably bought liquor too. I remember him drinking it, but not buying it. The comic book distraction must have worked as intended.

My mother, on the other hand, bought gas only when the fuel gauge demanded it, and then only a few dollars at a time. She would wait until the last possible opportunity, producing panic, usually toting rambunctious children in a station wagon without seat belts.

When parents model such competing life strategies, adulthood may begin with confusion and uncertainty. I know mine did. Eventually, those conflicting models showed me that I have more choices in life than I know how to number. I’ve tried to make sense of how my parents’ choices made sense to them.

My father grew up with poor but generous parents. They were itinerant machinists. They often moved to stay employed, including a short stint in Eugene and then Portland during World War II. Grandma sewed army boots. Grandpa worked in the shipyards.

They gave whatever they had. Grandpa built us a playhouse that lasted forever. I still have the comically shaped blanket that Grandma crocheted for Dad beside his deathbed. Every day in the hospital, he’d feel chilled and tell her the same thing: “Make it longer.”

My mother’s upbringing was very different. She grew up in a stately house, an annual stop on the suburban garden club tour. Her father traveled often and worked long hours as an accountant. Unfortunately, his work values followed him home. He was calculating and parsimonious with his affections.

He taught me to swim with my eyes open by throwing nickels into a hotel pool, but only after he learned pennies wouldn’t motivate a ten-year-old. He claimed they were quarters and chuckled when I discovered his ruse.

And so my parents navigated their world very differently. Mom answered to the fuel gauge. Dad watched the calendar. “What’s left?” versus “What’s next?” Did my parents argue about their differing lifestyles? I don’t remember. I do know we had the first two-car garage in the neighborhood.

I no longer buy gas only when I absolutely need it. This year I will survey other tanks that I’m filling only they are nearly empty, and try to change my approach. I believe abundance is more available than my awareness tells me, and I’ve devised a way to test it.

I will start each week with a small sum of money in my pocket, to be used for things that I don’t feel like I need. I decided I could spare a couple thousand dollars for this experiment — $40 per week. The amount matters less than the intent — to spend it in ways that don’t feel “normal” or “right” to me.

If my hypothesis is correct, after a year, I won’t wish I had that $2,000 back. I will have discovered new things that I enjoy but never tried because my fear disguised itself as frugality. I may better understand why others buy things that I don’t, after trying it alongside them. I’ll bet I won’t feel like the money was wasted, even though that was my expressed intent.

The abundance that surrounds me doesn’t always feel available to me, but maybe that’s less about the abundance and more about my ability to avail it. With a year practice, I may get better at it.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs

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Diversity is Not a Pizza

January 9th, 2017 · No Comments

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We love diversity. We love seeing it celebrated on our bumpers. But we’re continually frustrated that the groups where we spend our time are not sufficiently diverse. We’re constantly wondering, often aloud, what it would take to get more people not like us to come to wherever it is that we are. We wish for more diversity in our workplace, in our places of worship, among our leaders, or in our favorite social groups.

But here’s the thing we fail to understand. We’re mystified how to more effectively invite people whose skin color or income level or political persuasion does not match ours. We hope somebody can come up with a plan that will fix this problem, which we congratulate ourselves for recognizing, and then we wait.

But diversity is not a pizza. It will not be delivered when you find yourself craving it. Like many good things (including pizza), it should be carried out by those who value it. Expecting diversity to come to you is asking others to work harder at something because you want it. That’s not only illogical, it’s unfair.

Try this instead. Go where they are. Yes, you may feel awkward. You may stand out. You may worry that others are wondering why you’re there, or noticing how you don’t fit in. That’s exactly the point.

If you wish there were more young people caring about your favorite topic, go to where young people meet. If you wish you could better understand what the phrase “Black Lives Matter” means to those who are black, go to a local NAACP meeting. If income inequality is your gravest concern, go where your income is the exception and not the rule. If you think only broadened political views can bridge what divides us, go to the other side.

And listen. Listen first to your own discomfort to better understand why “they” have been so reluctant to join “us.” Listen to their concerns. Notice where their assumptions are different from your own. Feel yourself being stretched, as difficult as it is.

If you don’t hurry out the door, chances are good that somebody will approach you. They may start with suspicion, because we’re wired to respond to aberrations of any sort with questions about safety first. Once those needs are met, genuine dialogue can begin.

When I’m in Washington, D.C., I regularly attend the Progress For Christ Baptist Church. I’ve never seen another Caucasian there, but I’ve seen an 8-year-old drummer, a choir of five singing like 50, hour-long sermons, and a small congregation intent on sharing everything they have — not just what they can spare.

Rev. Dr. John D. Chaplin’s Mothers Day sermon has stayed with me for years, about how the deliberate rending of African-American families for over a century cannot be expected to heal quickly. “Whose you are” comes before “who you are.”

We must begin with who we are. Each of us will congregate with those who are like us, unless we expressly intend something different. That’s hard work and it’s getting harder.

Former U.S. Congressman Les AuCoin noticed decades ago that the word “community” was being co-opted by identity politics. A word that represents inclusion has been inverted to express exclusion. It’s often now synonymous with “interest group.”

Today we have the LGBT community, the business community, the environmentalist community, the bicyclist-rights community, and dozens more. What we’ve lost is the community community.

It’s time to rebuild that. It can begin with each of us venturing into unfamiliar territory to meet others where they are not in the minority, but we are. We can stop wanting diversity and start being diversity. The lessons will surprise you.

I once helped out at a soup kitchen, where a homeless man confided in me that he prefers winters to summers because his scavenged food lasted longer with “God’s refrigeration.” Yes, like that.

Something akin to enjoyment will start lapping at your edges, washing away some of the discomfort. Joy follows discovery, as your world gets larger and less fearsome. And that’s worth celebrating.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Festive Year-End Fripperies

January 9th, 2017 · No Comments

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Festive Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • Nostalgia keeps everything the same as it never was.
  • Life is a wet soap bar. The surest way to lose your grip is to hold it too tightly.
  • When banks gave us branded pens to use and keep instead of chaining them to the counter, the world got more confusing.
  • Peace requires courage.
  • Our year-end holidays make surprisingly little use of cheese, unless you count the Christmas carol, “A Whey In The Manger.”
  • Is there a word for twitching a sugar packet back and forth between thumb and forefinger before opening?
  • When the 2016 Ice Storm cut power, it prevented many housebound families from binge-watching anything but the weather and one another.
  • Envy is the hidden force behind most unhappiness.
  • Diversity is not a pizza. You cannot wait for it to be delivered. It must be “carried out” by those who want it.
  • I learned a new word: “innumerate.” I can’t count the number of times I’ll be using it.
  • Can we wish “godslow” for ponderers, as we wish “godspeed” for travelers?
  • People tell you to live in the present, but that’s only because living in the future perfect will have been so much harder. I feel tense just thinking about it.
  • If Republicans want to bring back internment camps, the troublemakers may have already done that work for them. Most liberals have corralled themselves into something we like to call “cities.”
  • Our university’s two benevolent PKs should give Duck football coach Willie Taggart his own helicopter. Landing on high school football fields would turn heads, even if he’s not allowed to offer a ride home to the prized recruits he visits.
  • When Trump flew into the White House, I blamed the Chicago Cubs. Before they won the World Series, pigs couldn’t do that.
  • Practical jokes are usually one or the other.
  • If Greater Eugene Inc. needs a marketing and recruitment slogan, they could do worse than, “Everything’s easier here.”
  • Champagne claims to be its own category, distinct from other sparkling wines. Guinness could and should do the same.
  • United States seems to have hit a limit. We just don’t know whether it’s biological, intellectual, or social/political.
  • Maybe democracy and antibiotics don’t mix. We didn’t worry about herd mentality when the herd was continually culled. We respected our elders because they had defied the odds.
  • If Trump’s inner dramas play out as greed versus vanity, root for vanity.
  • I’ve avoided success, putting the “shun” in “congratulation.”
  • The Irish have the best comfort foods.
  • Put your bathroom scale in front of the fridge. Shift your attention from effect to cause.
  • The Electoral College elegantly promoted this young nation’s two sources of wealth and security — its people and its land. (Slaves were regrettably counted as the latter.)
  • Devotion can be spread without being thinned.
  • We don’t know what 2% milk is. “Half the fat” would tell us.
  • We use antiperspirant even on days when we have no intention to perspire.
  • When the sign says “This Door Must Remain Closed At All Times,” why not just attach a handle to the wall?
  • Partners should distinguish whether a dispute comes down to “you versus me” or “us versus not-us.”
  • Who goes to a currency exchange to exchange currency?
  • While we weren’t watching, Black Friday took over the entire month of November.
  • Part of our morning caffeine routine is really about calibration. Getting something “just right” gives us assurance about the day ahead.
  • Of all our nation’s perils, the loss of meaningful work frightens me most.
  • I’m rethinking whether gossip is always bad. Oftentimes, it seems an excess of otherwise useful and helpful habits.
  • What the heck is an organizational “bureau?” Besides the FBI, are there others?
  • Destination weddings give couples who have been living together a way to invite their friends to the honeymoon.
  • Fire escapes are cool.
  • How long before we all feel a need for luggage with all-terrain tires?
  • Why doesn’t every old person eventually move to the West Coast, where all the awards shows and most national sporting events are over before 9 PM?
  • Shoe stores don’t serve the barefoot anymore.
  • Mattress. Firm. Price. (Combine ingredients to make your own frippery.)
  • Detractors use historic references to insist that blackface is abhorrent. By that measure, the labels “gay” and “black” should be disallowed.
  • What percentage of your conversation topics concern what you’ve read or watched or heard others saying? How much do you talk about what you thought or did or saw yourself?
  • Sometimes I can be wrong with a capital R.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Ice Storm Wasn’t Extreme; It Was Precise

December 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

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I feel just a tiny bit responsible for our 2016 Ice Storm, since I dared winter — in print! — to show us something more than the “meh” weather we’d been tolerating in early December. To those who lost power for days or longer, had their roof or car punctured with the pointy sticks of nature, or slipped and fell on the ever-present ice, I’m sorry.

But to the weather itself, I say “Bravo!”

I’m not a fan of the cliché, but what we saw last week was very close to a perfect storm — perfect, as in precise. This storm was not the coldest, the deepest, the earliest, or the longest. The havoc it wreaked hit all sorts of extremes. The storm itself hit the magnificent middle, the hard-way half-way, the terrible ‘tween. This was a Goldilocks Storm.

Had it been one degree colder, we’d have gotten snow. One degree warmer, it would have been sleet. Either way, we wouldn’t still be talking about it. We wouldn’t have lost thousands of trees, and there wouldn’t be thousands of local residents now heading into their second week without power.

Everyone who could recharge their phones spent hours last week snapping photographs and posting them to Facebook. Glass tendrils extending tree branches or “dripping” from power lines regularly extended six inches. The ice casing over branches was routinely an inch thick.

Disney could not have designed a more compelling crystal city, but this one was real. The beauty was awesome, but think about the physics of it.

A drop of rain hits a power line. It moves laterally no more than a few inches. Then it begins to drip down an already formed icicle, aiming to wet the ground below. But before it reaches the end of the icy stalactite, it turns solid — adding length and weight to the emerging ice sculpture.

It all started with a not-uncommon weather inversion. Cold air lay on the valley floor with warm air above it. If the layers had been reversed, with the cold air above, it would have been hail. Without an inversion, it would have been snow (cold) or rain (warm) — either way, no big deal.

The precipitation fell exactly in the middle. The H2O started warm enough — but just barely — to fall as rain, then turned to ice after touching a cable or branch and before falling to the ground. That’s precise, or if you prefer, perfect. Gravity dueled with molecular cohesion, and gravity lost. (Water molecules are strongly cohesive because of their tetrahedral configuration, which is why liquids can extend above the brim of a glass without spilling over.)

Those icicles form best and longest when that liquid-to-liquid bonding occurs just long enough for the cold to turn it solid. That’s precision and it’s awesome. Colder, snow or hail; warmer, rain or sleet. But here we are. We can seek shelter, but trees are not so lucky.

The encasing ice adds enormous weight to each branch on each tree. Excepting the infirm, the ones that suffer most are those that extend outward from the trunk, parallel to the ground. I’m gonna say these frozen branches weigh up to ten times their normal weight. (I don’t know the exact physics here, so I used a round number and the word “gonna.”)

And then (no, we’re not done yet), the temperature stayed cold, and gravity staged its comeback. Mother Nature became a cruel yoga instructor: “… and HOLD (for five days). Feel the burn!” Those poor trees struggled mightily to keep their shape. You know you’ve lived in Oregon long enough when you start to see storms from the trees’ perspective.

Only one thing could have made this storm worse — some whipping wind to accompany the icy cold. If lateral force had been added, even more trees would have lost their branches or upended their roots. So, sorry, 2016, yours was not a “perfect storm,” but close.

Our temperate climate won’t hit the attention-grabbing extremes seen in other parts of the country. That’s no excuse not to be awed by nature’s power and precision. We’re wired to notice the extremes, but there’s another magnificence in clear view — smack dab in the middle.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. Kahle’s challenge to “meh” winter can be found here: http://registerguard.com/rg/opinion/35070725-78/the-meh-weather-is-unsettling-give-us-winter.html.csp

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